The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great

By Henry Chadwick | Go to book overview

55 Justinian, Origen, and the 'Three Chapters'

Theodora

In 527 the emperor Justin died and was succeeded by his nephew Justinian, aged 45, also a native of Illyricum but unlike Justin well educated (PLRE ii. 648). During his illiterate uncle's reign he already in effect governed the empire, and was joint emperor from 1 April 527 until Justin's death on 1 August. In 523 he had married Theodora, like himself of modest social origins, who in a colourful and turbulent past had been mistress to a governor of Libya and then, after being discarded, earned a precarious living as a low music-hall artiste. The historian Procopius nursed cordial hatred for both her and her imperial husband and on death his 'Secret History' (Anekdota) was found among his papers making a ferocious attack, a high proportion of which appears factually true. 1 At one point in her miserable past life at Alexandria she had turned for help to a Monophysite priest, and in consequence her sympathies were marked by strong reserve towards the Chalcedonian 'two natures'. To her resolute courage during the seditious Nika riot in January 532, a revolt which destroyed much of the city including St Sophia, Justinian owed his survival. He wanted to flee and was stopped by her adapting Isocrates (Archidamus 45), that 'this purple robe will make a fine winding-sheet for my burial.' She was a compound of catgut and steel. The riot by destroying the old church of Holy Wisdom, enabled the building of the extant engineering and architectural masterpiece dedicated in 537. The dome partly fell after an earthquake in 558. Rededication was in 562. Theodora's monogram is on half the columns, Justinian's on the other half. She was reckoned to share fully in the imperial office, at least as potent as Justinian (Procopius, Anekdota 17. 27 and 30. 24. At audiences her feet were kissed (15. 15). Her monogram was also on state seals.

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